Branding & Authenticity – Can You Have Both?

Hiring someone to create your social media content – is that allowed? Does that discredit you as a person? Does it make your account “fake”?

The first thing I do when I get a new client for social media is write their branding document. Without this, everything else would fall apart. A branding document outlines the author’s persona on social media – essentially, it establishes what kind of content will be posted or engaged with and what language will be used on which platforms. To a lot of people, this sounds like some kind of script, a rulebook for how to stay in character and play the role. In reality, it’s so much more than that.

Branding is essential for consistency. Consistency is essential for engagement. Engagement is essential for discoverability. And finally, most importantly, discoverability is essential for website traction and sales.

The chain works like this: Having a consistent brand means you consistently post the same kind of content, the same style of photos, the same style of writing. It’s an art. If a user likes that style of art, then they’ll support the artist with a follow.

Now, imagine for a moment that there’s a talented portrait artist. They’ve been doing realistic, bright-colored portraits for a few months now, and they’re starting to get a few commissions for their work. They paint a commission and send it back and it’s done in a dark, impressionistic style. The client didn’t get what they signed up for, and they’re not happy. Suddenly the other clients withdraw their commissions. They have no idea what to expect from this artist anymore.

It’s the same with a social media page. Users commission us, in a sense, by giving us a follow. They like the content we’ve been producing, and they want to see more of it. Posting something outside the lines of the style they signed up to see will make them withdraw their commissions – we lose followers.

Followers are important in engaging with our posts. The likes, shares, and comments actually boost posts in trends and hashtags and search pages. The more engagement you get, the more easily discoverable your content will be. It’s as simple as that. So if you have no followers to engage with your content, you’ll never be discovered. If you never get discovered, you’ll never get traffic on your website, and then you’ll never make a sale.

So staying consistent in your content is actually critical to gaining sales.

To circle back to the original question, does this make you inauthentic on social media? Not at all. To phrase it another way, is the artist inauthentic for painting in the same style every day? No. That’s one dimension of their life that people want to see. We can acknowledge that yes, they may have an interest in dark impressionism, but that’s not the side of the artist we’re interested in.

In this sense, people are a lot like diamonds. We have multiple facets of our personality that make up every part of our beautiful selves. But not everyone in our lives are familiar with every single facet. They can’t be, if we want to keep our sanity. Does showing only one facet of our humanity make us any less human? Not at all. Branding a social media platform to focus on one element of your life does not make you any less authentic. It makes you an artist. And most importantly, it keeps you sane.

b&w museums and my failures with film

The first time I ever used black and white film, I was at the Portland Art Museum using my Olympus 30 RC point & shoot camera. This camera was the absolute bane of my existence. I got it for $15 at a garage sale, and I could not figure out how to focus the thing. Turns out, you can’t really focus point and shoot cameras, thus the name. Learning film is a process, folks, and I am only just beginning. (PS – if anyone knows something about how the focus works on this camera, I would love to hear about it!)

Fortunately, some of these pictures turned out, and I discovered a love for shooting black and white film at artistic locations. I tried doing a second roll on that camera and the film jammed and I accidentally ruined the entire roll trying to get it unjammed. Third time’s the charm, though, right? Wrong.

73410027.jpg

There were a couple more failed attempts at capturing life on this camera. I got my film back from the Tulip Festival and cried when not one single shot came out focused.
 

I came very close to giving up entirely, and then I turned around within the hour and bought a Pentax K1000 off of Craigslist. Within the next hour I was downtown at the local university taking trial pictures.

After I got these shots back, I was relieved that I could actually figure out how to focus images. These pictures gave me hope that I could actually get better. The rest has been a learning experience with many patient friends and family as I tried out different shots at different locations with different people, many times in rivers or the rain (sorry Adriana). But one thing I never gave up on was taking black and white photos at museums. So when I got to go to The Getty with my family a few weeks ago, I saw an opportunity to redeem myself.

Not all of the pictures turned out perfect or even completely in focus, but it’s a step forward. There’s something unique about taking photos of art and removing the color. It forces you to look at the simple shape and construction of the works – how do the shadows work together to make up the figure? What is it that determines how a piece makes someone really feel? What shapes did the artist prioritize?

Fun fact, for a time in my life I wanted to be an art historian. I was also really into studying world religions. But my focus has always been on writing and book publishing, so I didn’t have time nor the resources to look into those subjects more. While I might not be able to justify taking college classes or paying money to study these things full time, I can combine these interests with other hobbies. It sometimes seems impossible to get started on any side project with limited schedules. We can only dedicate so much time to our hobbies before having to return to work (unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky ones who makes a living off your hobby). But if you go outside the box, you might be surprised at the paths you discover. Try combining some of your passions to save time – you never know what the outcome might be.

Opal Creek 7.4.18

IMG_2720

Yesterday, I went to Opal Creek for the first time ever. I know. A true Oregonian who has never hiked Opal Creek? What have I even been doing with my life?

The place was beautiful. It really lived up to the hype. But what made more of an impression on me was the eerie abandoned mines near the creek. Me and two girls were exploring off the main trail when we found some of these mine entrances that give off total horror-story vibes. I wrote a nosleep story to go with one of the pictures I took – will post later.

The girls I went with are currently in high school, and I’m so glad I went with them instead of the usual crowd. They dragged me all the way up the river. Like, literally through the river. We didn’t hardly even hike the main trail, and it was great. At one point, I slipped on a rock and fell completely in the water. Yes, I was wearing my camera. But don’t worry; I made sure to fall backwards.

There’s something great about finding friends that are willing to go out of their comfort zone and just dive into the water. Find yourself a couple people you can always rely on to go on adventures. You’ll be surprised at the places they’ll take you.

intentional storytelling

 

I love shooting film.

You’ve probably heard it said many times, but film is different than digital photo shoots because of how intentional you have to be with each shot. It’s true – plain and simply, each shot costs money. I’m still very new to this game, so let me be the first to say, I waste a lot of money. Finding the right kind of film, getting the perfect settings, making sure the camera doesn’t malfunction, making sure the time of day is right – it’s all so much to keep in mind, I often screw up several pictures on a roll of film. It can be honestly overwhelming. Digital is easy compared to this; I can take 300 shots and not have to worry about losing a penny.

I used to be a part of the newspaper at my community college. The professor who ran it always said, “A picture is worth a thousand words, unless you have a thousand words.” He probably got that from someone else, to be honest. But this statement has proven true again and again for me – so long as those thousand words are intentional.

Have you ever written flash fiction? I love it. I had a professor in undergrad who challenged me to write a story every week under 750 words. Seems easy, right?

Wrong.

I found myself cutting whole paragraphs and sentences of what already felt like a too-short story. Those cuts are a lot like the settings on a film camera – you have to be precise with that shutter speed, the aperture, the focus, in order to get the image you want. Intentional writing is a lot like film photography. If your challenge is to write a thousand-word short story, you have to have complete and total control over every single word that goes into your piece in order to create the exact image you want your readers to see.

This summer, I want to shoot a lot of film. My goal is to have an entire roll of perfect shots. Yeah, that sounds crazy. It is crazy. But my hope with this isn’t just to improve my photography skills – it’s to improve my writing skills. It’s to train my brain how to be intentional with every single piece that makes up the thousand-word portrait of my story.

Want to join? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.